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DNA methylation profiles in adults born at extremely low birth weight

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 October 2020

Karen J. Mathewson
Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Patrick O. McGowan
Department of Biological Sciences, Cells and Systems Biology, Psychology and Physiology, University of Toronto, ON, Canada
Wilfred C. de Vega
Department of Biological Sciences, Cells and Systems Biology, Psychology and Physiology, University of Toronto, ON, Canada
Ryan J. Van Lieshout
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Katherine M. Morrison
Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Saroj Saigal
Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Louis A. Schmidt
Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
E-mail address:


Effects of stresses associated with extremely preterm birth may be biologically “recorded” in the genomes of individuals born preterm via changes in DNA methylation (DNAm) patterns. Genome-wide DNAm profiles were examined in buccal epithelial cells from 45 adults born at extremely low birth weight (ELBW; ≤1000 g) in the oldest known cohort of prospectively followed ELBW survivors (Mage = 32.35 years, 17 male), and 47 normal birth weight (NBW; ≥2500 g) control adults (Mage = 32.43 years, 20 male). Sex differences in DNAm profiles were found in both birth weight groups, but they were greatly enhanced in the ELBW group (77,895 loci) versus the NBW group (3,424 loci), suggesting synergistic effects of extreme prenatal adversity and sex on adult DNAm profiles. In men, DNAm profiles differed by birth weight group at 1,354 loci on 694 unique genes. Only two loci on two genes distinguished between ELBW and NBW women. Gene ontology (GO) and network analyses indicated that loci differentiating between ELBW and NBW men were abundant in genes within biological pathways related to neuronal development, synaptic transportation, metabolic regulation, and cellular regulation. Findings suggest increased sensitivity of males to long-term epigenetic effects of extremely preterm birth. Group differences are discussed in relation to particular gene functions.

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